Billed as the fastest three men in the world's first encounter of the year, today's Diamond League meeting in Stockholm lost a third of its sparkle yesterday when Jamaica's Asafa Powell withdrew from the glamour event. Powell's injury-related absence leaves Usain Bolt, the world record holder and Olympic champion, and America's Tyson Gay, the second fastest man in history, in a two-man tussle for Swedish bragging rights.
In a statement on his management's website, Powell said he was "absolutely devastated" to miss the showdown, which would have been the trio's first encounter since last year's world championships in Berlin, won by Bolt in a world record time of 9.58secs. "I have been running very well and I was hoping that I would be in the race with a solid chance to win," said Powell, adding that he has been "really looking forward to the race against Usain and Tyson."
Powell cited back and hamstring problems - issues that developed following the minor groin injury he picked up in July's Paris Diamond League meet - as the reason for his withdrawal. The former 100m world record holder, who did not train for 10 days after Paris, insisted his injury problems would make it difficult for him "to even finish the [Stockholm] race." Despite worries over an Achilles tendon strain, Bolt recovered from a sluggish start to beat Powell in Paris. Having run 9.84secs to edge out his compatriot in the French capital, Bolt, who was beaten by Powell in Stockholm two years ago, is the overwhelming favourite this weekend.
"My foot is getting better, I'm training hard, I've been working out, so I'm getting there," said Bolt. "I'm feeling good, so that's the key thing. I'm in good shape." The world's fastest man did, however, confess to disappointment that Powell had been forced to withdraw. "It's sad because I think people were really looking forward to the three of us [racing]," Bolt told reporters yesterday. "But it's still going to be a quick time."
That sentiment was shared by Gay, who acknowledged his mental preparations had been geared towards facing the Jamaican pair. "It's put a little dampener on it, but it's just as big a race," Gay said. "I know I'm going to need to run my best to even be in the camera shot." After launching his new clothing range at a packed sports store in Stockholm, Bolt, who is single-handedly responsible for reigniting the global appetite for track and field, revealed that the affections of his worldwide fan base remain one of his chief motivators.
"I've got all these wonderful fans behind me so I got no worries," said Bolt, who will wear a one-off vest, featuring an image of him riding on a lion, in Stockholm. The singlet, Bolt added, could find its way into the grateful arms of one his supporters. "If the crowd are really loud and they love me, I will probably give my singlet away." With Powell out of the Swedish reckoning, another noticeable absentee in the 100m is Christophe Lemaitre, the French star who won three European championship golds in Barcelona last week.
Minus Bolt, Gay and Powell for company, Lemaitre braved a strong Spanish headwind to take 100m gold in a time of 10.11secs. That was slower than the 10.09secs which earned Lemaitre fifth in the Paris Diamond League meet - a run far slower than the sub-9.9sec bursts of Bolt and Powell. But the 20-year-old did make history by breaking the 10-second barrier for the first time during July's French national championships.